The 2013 CMT Awards flew by in a rush of big hats and southern accents, and what a sweet cavalcade of talent it was! Jason Aldean mixed it up with Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow presented the biggest award of the night with Kenny Rogers, and Video of the Year winners Lady Antebellum thrilled me by putting vocalist Charles Kelley in the hottest, tightest pants imaginable. Call me John Denver, because when it comes to sexual tastes, thank God I’m a country boy.
Today, I’m hoping to reach out to non-country fans with a definitive list: the 10 greatest moments in country music for gay guys who don’t care about country music. These 10 historic things will make you care, gents! Kick up your imaginary spurs and pour yer’self a cup of ambition, because these country moments will impress-a-you much.
10. Olivia Newton-John is a liar who claims to be from Nashville on the preposterous “Please Mr. Please.”
I feel like it’s easy to forget that Olivia Newton-John was once a country music supernova. She used to defeat Dolly, Loretta, and Tanya Tucker for major country music awards, even though she’s an Aussie empress and not a bluegrass bumpkin at heart. Her most egregious act of dishonesty was in “Please Mr. Please,” her 1975 pop-country hit that swooned, “I could swear I’d be the richest girl in Nashville / Maybe even in the state of Tennessee.” Uh, is she talking about Nashville, Victoria, AUS? Because this is just a theatrical fib played out in twangy harmonies.
9. Jeannie C. Riley’s country hit “Harper Valley PTA” blooms into a beautiful Barbara Eden movie and TV series.
Jeannie C. Riley scintillated us with her saucy anthem “Harper Valley PTA,” but her twangy angst became legendary when Barbara Eden starred in the movie and TV series based on the song. If you don’t experience unadulterated joy while watching Eden face off against “Harper Valley hypocrites,” you deserve to be locked in a bottle for thousands of years. And I hope the astronaut who uncorks you is a total drip.
8. The awesome sound of the typewriter clacking at the beginning of “9 to 5”
That clickety-clack. It’s like a clarion call from 1980, a nervy QWERTY bit of anthemic instrumentation. Just hearing that typewriter makes me want to put on a kerchief, fluff up my perm, and prepare to go to war with the copy machine.
Can we talk about the idea of Crystal Gayle for a moment? She’s Loretta Lynn’s sister who had a few great songs but primarily entertained us by having the most ferocious appearance and Angel Falls-size cascade of hair. It is towers and towers of hair. Rapunzel has to climb up another turret to get to the top of Crystal’s hair. Though she’s best known for “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” please be aware that the true gem in Crystal’s catalog is “Half the Way.” Please, please know this.
6. The gyrating backup cowboys in Madonna’s “Don’t Tell Me” video
Now, this is country music I understand. Featuring trippy, blippy beats, rodeo disco energy, and some of Madonna’s best lyrics, “Don’t Tell Me” is a triumph of Madge’s post-Ray of Light career. Better yet, she’s surrounded by some of the hottest men of all time during the sweet-ass dance breakdowns. Ow, ow, boys. We can thank director Jean-Baptiste Mondino for his exquisite taste in backup pard’ners.
5. Tim McGraw spends 2013 announcing he is the hottest man alive. We spend 2013 believing it.
So, Tim McGraw is a recovered alcoholic. That’s worthy of praise. But what’s somehow more notable is the fact that he’s 46, buffer than ever, and willing to flex for our approval. Surely Tim’s insane abdominals are worthier of the Grand Ole Opry’s stage than another tribute to Hank Williams or the Carter Family. Faith Hill, you are one lucky dame.
4. Elton John’s best album is the countrified, beautiful Tumbleweed Connection.
For all of Elton John’s success, he’s not really considered an “album” artist even though Tumbleweed Connection is one of the great, country-tinged LPs ever. The 1970 album features the nostalgic “Amoreena,” the haunting “My Father’s Gun,” and the just-plain-classic “Country Comfort.” It remains somewhat shocking how perfect a fit Elton was for country trappings, as the “Madman Across the Water” usually prefers excess and grandeur over rustic simplicity and subtlety.
The Village People’s venerable sheriff was played at different times by rotated group members Dave Forrest, Randy Jones, and G. Jeff Olson, but all three successfully mocked the stereotype of the macho cowpoke. In general, the “YMCA” songsters don’t get enough credit for subverting masculine archetypes and branding us all with queerness from the get-go. You can’t not love their shtick, even 30+ years after “In the Navy” first rocked us.
2. “Jolene” is the only song that matters.
“Jolene” may be the perfect country song. It’s certainly as heartbreaking as any other pop classic I can think of, which is a great testament to the songwriting power of Dolly Parton. Don’t you feel like Taylor Swift is the kind of person who pretends to relate to Dolly, but secretly relates to Jolene? I think about this all the time.
1. Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video is pure country art dressed in a leopard catsuit.
The year was 1998. Shania Twain was on her way to racking up the biggest female album of all time with her blockbuster disc Come On Over. How could life get better? Here’s how: She elevated the art of the music video forever with the hard-strutting, leopard-catsuited clip for her gem “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” As a sexy dame with leopard-print luggage in the desert, Shania searches for an ideal suitor, but turns down every wannabe in sight with a dismissive put-down. (e.g. “OK, so you’re Brad Pitt. That don’t impress me much”; “OK, so you’ve got a car. That don’t impress me much”).
Country music is almost never allowed to be this over-the-top, cool, funny, and draggy. Even Dolly Parton wouldn’t dare stomp around with a bare midriff in the Mojave. But because Shania dared, her music video remains proof that even aloof, country-indifferent gays can still find a way to love the twangier side of music. To this day, I always carry a comb up my sleeve — just in case.